Zarkana brings Cirque du Soleil back to its roots in a totally modern way
By Nina King
Photos by Christopher DeVargas
With its newest Las Vegas production, Zarkana, mega entertainment company Cirque du Soleil has made a return, in a sense, to its street arts inception while capturing perfectly the wonder that technology can bring to the stage.
Zarkana begins with a clown congress, asleep close to a hundred years in an abandoned theater, awakened by magician Zark; they help guide him as his powers re-emerge. And it’s a love story, too: Zark is seeking to win the regard of his former love. But for Zark, that is not so easy to accomplish.
Within this loose story, all of Cirque du Soleil’s strengths play out: incredible acrobatics accented by powerful music, striking makeup and intricate costuming, all accompanied by a monumental set imbued with modern technology.
The show, like nearly all circuses, does begin with clowns, all in white here, creating a ghostly mien. Each is a singular character, collaborated on by the performers and by makeup designer Éleni Uranis, a 20-year veteran of Cirque du Soleil; the process took about six months to develop from start to finish. One not-so-graceful swan is always a step behind, a duo drives the action with absurdity and then there is a mad scientist, who manages to produce a pickled baby (when one of the hapless clowns falls into an enormous jar). Zarkana’s technological edge is shown off here, as the huge baby is actually a projection, although it is a little frightening in its realism. And a juggler puts a spin on her art, bouncing balls on, under and around objects.
Soon, an array of acrobatic acts hits the stage, and they truly are magnificent—a balancing act that uses ladders, another where three acrobats form a sort of human tripod, standing on just one arm while a fourth performs a one-armed handstand on top of that. A long plank held between two performers acts as a trampoline, propelling another performer high, high in the air. On the high wire, a flaming ball swings between two wire walkers, seemingly an inch from knocking them right off. And a team of 15 acrobats uses each other as building blocks and launching points, flipping one another through the air.
Woven throughout the acrobatics are exquisite visual delights. The set itself consists of three arches spanning the stage, descending visually within another. This allows the large stage to appear more intimate and narrow down to a Broadway-size stage in the center, something set designer Stéphane Roy carefully worked out while designing Zarkana for a similarly sized stage at Radio City Music Hall. Those huge arches, each sculpted in a separate theme such as plants and serpents, are surrounded with tiles and screens onto which it seems gargantuan snakes writhe and long tendrils extend. A large round screen descends and a sand artist’s mesmerizing scenes are projected there.
In each scene of Zarkana, there is so much to see and marvel over that when the climax comes and magician Zark does locate his love Lia, the end has come too soon. Couldn’t Zark test his powers one more time, and send us back for another look?